First, there was hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness and conviviality that results in contentment and overall well-being. Then came lagom, the Swedish notion of moderation and balanced living. Now, it’s all about niksen, the Dutch art of doing nothing, or being idle, as a way to relieve stress.
It’s harder than it sounds, given that most societies – particularly Asian ones – associate productivity and being busy with success. But according to niksen, purposeless activities such as staring out the window, chilling with a cup of coffee, or listening to music are meant to help us slow down and break out of the inexorable rat race, thus giving our minds an opportunity to recharge and reset.
This can seem like an excuse to be lazy, but in fact niksen is a way to prevent burnout. By pausing to take a deep breath, we are preventing ourselves from being consumed by work and the demands of life.
Is niksen achievable in Singapore?
We are all on board for niksen. Who wouldn’t love some quiet time to tune out and be present? But it does seem rather indulgent, especially in a society like Singapore, where everything moves at breakneck speed and our schedules are usually jam-packed with meetings, errands, and work. Our inbox and text messages always command our attention, and everything is a priority.
Even the thought of taking a breather makes us feel guilty. Should I be wasting my time being idle? Shouldn’t I be checking something off my to-do list?
Then again, isn’t it time for us to break free of our relentless pursuit of productivity and societal expectations, and care for our mental well-being instead?
“Work can be relentless sometimes, particularly in my line” says Sarah*, 30, an auditor at a major auditing firm. “But I think there is a societal shift in focus on mental health now. Niksen is a very appealing concept, one that I would get behind, if I can break out of that workaholic mindset.”
Indeed, niksen is a way to slow down and exercise mindfulness, but unlike meditating, we’re zoning out instead of zoning in.
How to incorporate niksen into everyday life
Ready to give niksen a shot? Here’s how you can start.
1. Put down your phone
We’re all guilty of reaching for our phones when we’re bored, but instead of diving into the black hole of social media for mindless entertainment, try to be present in the moment, wherever you are. Keep some distance between you and your phone so you don’t get distracted by those notifications.
2. Avoid your inbox
Productivity can give us a good shot of satisfaction, and getting pesky emails out of the way can seem like a time-saver. But all it does is steal minutes of your free time without you realising it. The point of niksen is to try not to accomplish anything, so whatever you do, don’t get tempted to refresh your inbox or reply to emails.
3. Listen to some music
The best way to tune out, quite literally, is by plugging in to your favourite playlist or podcast. Allow yourself that pocket of time to fully immerse in music, which studies have shown help the brain to rewire and recharge.
Meditation helps to clear our minds and catch a breather from reality. Take some time to enjoy the silence and soon you’ll learn to enjoy your zen hour. Can’t sit still for more than five minutes? Quick meditation can be as effective.
5. Go for a walk
The benefits of physical activity on our mood have been well documented. Not only does a leisurely stroll get those serotonin pumping and put us in a more relaxed mood, it can also help to clear our thoughts and make us feel more recharged.
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*Names have been changed.
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